Wednesday, 24 February 2016

San Francisco 6.4: The San Fran Finale

Our time in San Francisco finished with a trip to, across, and beyond the Golden Gate Bridge - one of the landmarks we were most excited to see.

Setting off early, we were driven to the Golden Gate Bridge by Laura's Mum and dropped off just outside the museum. It was a great spot to take some pictures across the bay before we started our walk. It also gave me the opportunity to check my facts and stats in regards to the bridge's structure #geek!

Here are the highlights:
  • It's 1 mile wide
  • 3 miles long
  • Opened in May 1937
  • 227m tall
  • Took 4 years to build
  • It's not Golden - its official colour is actually International Orange!
  • 3 babies have been born on the bridge (at the time we publish this :))
It took us a little over an hour to walk the bridge on a beautiful clear day - this included plenty of time for pictures, standing over cargo ships as they sailed below (L and her Dad were waving and trying to get them to honk at us....age is just a number, after all haha!), animal spotting and enjoying a spectacular view of the bay. It also gave us time to avoid the many cyclists who decided they owned the path....seriously, watch your back!

Once we got the other side we met Laura's Mum and drove up the a viewing area called Hawk Hill just behind the bridge. It took about 15 minutes on very windy roads but the view from the top was spectacular.

Next on the to-do list was Muir Woods. We thought the cool woods would be a great way to get out of the afternoon heat and we were right. We got there for 3pm, just in time for a 'Tree Talk by Todd', which was a talk by one of the park rangers on the history of the woods and the unique qualities of the redwoods. He was so enthusiastic, and informative!

The park itself is actually a national monument. It was preserved by John Muir, a naturalist who helped preserve the forest with the Kent family (who bought the land). The woods even held a United Nation meeting in 1945! It gets over 6,000 visitors a day and you can see why. There is something special about walking through the ancient woods with trees you have to stretch your neck right back to fully appreciate. Their colouring is also something I've never seen before. It was fascinating to learn about the qualities that made the trees so sought after (the bark was great for building houses as it was resistant to disease, mold and bugs) and the preservation that now takes place. Also some of the trees grow in families with new trees sprouting from the base of an older tree - lovely!

We did a 5 mile walk around the main part of the woods checking out all the main points of interest and by the time we were finished the sun was setting.

After all the walking we were in great need of refreshments, especially as the temperature was a high of 20 degrees C so we headed to Sausalito, a 20 minute drive back towards San Francisco but not quite over the bridge. With beautiful waterfront views across the bay and a stunning harbour it was a perfect place to stroll around and explore. We even discovered an all year round Christmas shop and floating mosque.

The highlight was the meal we had overlooking the bay. The Barrel House Tavern paired amazing food with an intimate atmosphere and a beautiful view of the sparkling lights of San Francisco. It was a perfect end to our stay with Laura's parents and we spent the whole night reflecting on just how much we had done in our short stay. We loved San Fran!

Thursday, 18 February 2016

San Francisco - USA Road Trip Part 6.2

The next day in San Francisco was our most packed - such a beautiful city, there was so much to see and experience!!

We started off the day at breakfast with our lovely friends Steph and Corrine - you might remember when we met up with them January 2012 when we were visiting NYC, now they have relocated to the West Coast so it was lovely to see them in their new habitat!

As we were already in the Mission District, we took the chance to check out the Mission Street Murals - so vibrant and beautiful, all with meanings and opinions, we spent ages there looking at it all.

From there we headed to the Mosaic steps - a loooong and steep staircase in the city with, not surprisingly, a mosaic of tiles on them, it was stunning, and the view from the top was breathtaking!

We headed up to the Twin Peaks - a must see, according to our Uber driver the night of the wedding. We weren't disappointed - you could see for miles up there! The city, the Bay, the houses, the bridges - it really gave us perspective of how big the city is.

The next bit of our day in the city was my personal favourite - visiting The Castro was such a highlight of the trip. I am a big fan of Harvey Milk, and loved the film 'Milk' where Sean Penn played Harvey, so was so excited to be able to see where he began the gay rights revolution.

We got to go into the site of Castro Cameras, which is now the Human Rights Campaign office - a great non-profit, we bought some swag and headed to another recommendation (this time from Steph and Corrine) - Hot Cookie. Sarah LOVES cookies so we were very happy to munch on them as we continued through the district.

We even got Bisbee a souvenir from there, a rainbow ring from an awesome pet boutique!

Hungry even post-cookies, we went to Chinatown, where we stumbled upon the oldest Dim Sum restaurant in San Francisco. It was just what we needed - delicious, and the staff were so friendly. We definitely recommend eating there if you are in the area!

With our bellies full, we decided to ride a cable car! Mum and Dad got on the back, and Sarah and I decided to hang off the side, which was slightly nervewracking but lots of fun! We took the cable car to Fisherman's Wharf, so were able to take in a stunning view of The Bay, Golden Gate Bridge, and Alcatraz as we neared our destination.

We saw the sea lions at Pier 39, cute and noisy as ever - they will forever remind me of my childhood dog, Abby, who I swear looked just like one - and watched the sun set in the direction of the Golden Gate Bridge. I reflected on how lucky I was to be seeing these sights with my parents (as well as my wonderful wife!), as they had driven for two days from Idaho to spend this time with us!

We ended the most wonderful day with cocktails, appetisers, and THIS amazing dessert from Boudin's, which is a shop famous for their sour dough bread (my favourite!). We had parked in Chinatown, and as we headed through an urban park to our car, we were mesmerised by a group of about 40 older Chinese men and women, all practising Tai Chi, perfectly timed - it was so peaceful and magical, and a great way to end our day in San Francisco.

Next time, our final San Fran post - crossing the Golden Gate Bridge, Muir Woods, and Sausalito!

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

San Francisco - USA Road Trip Part 6.1

We loved San Fran, what’s not to love – except maybe the hills!

Cities often have distinct personalities and if San Fran was a person you want to hang out with them, the city is full of culture and history but has the feel of an up and coming intriguing place to be.

In total we had 4 days in San Fran and 1 of those was spent at a wonderful wedding in the Admirals house overlooking the bay and Alcatraz – and yes there were plenty of jokes about marriage being like jail – not by us of course J

Arriving at San Francisco was an experience no sooner had we seen Oakland on the road signs we were veering off over a spectacle bridge into the city. This bridge was not ‘the’ bridge but for its structural impressiveness and the sheer weight of traffic on it I was impressed. Driving into the city from the bridge we relied solely on the sat nav to guide us around the busy streets and hills, part terrified and part enjoying the ride I held on tightly to the phone scared that a wrong turn could have us facing even steeper hills. I was exhausted by the time we arrived at the Air bnb.

We were sharing the Air bnb with Laura’s parents and her Mum had managed to find an amazing place with an outdoor hut tub and a view of the bay. It was breath taking.

As we had arrived slightly later than expected we had to make a quick turnaround to make it to the wedding welcome drinks, it was so good to see all the friends who had attended our wedding a year earlier. Although most of them has to watch us stuffing our faces on the most delicious mac and cheese as we hadn’t had time to eat. Oops.

Back at the Air bnb we spent the evening chatting and catching up, oh and true Laura fashion planning out the next few days.

Good Morning San Francisco
Our first stop in the morning was the crookedest street, or Lombard Street, with Laura’s Dad driving we were in good hands as we drove past the street, then drove down the street, then parked and took photos of the street. We saw people cycle down it, rollerblade down it, Segway down it, go down in mini cars – it was entertaining just standing and watching.

We also had a quick tour of the painted ladies, beautiful houses painted in every colour you can imagine and surrounded a square park. 
A few of our favs
The afternoon was focused on putting another plan into action – finding Clam Chowder, or somewhere that served it. We last had clam chowder sat at Pikes Market in Seattle and having heard San Fran had some of the best in the US it had to be done. By sheer luck we drove past the oldest restaurant in San Fran and by chance they were famous for their clam chowder! The restaurant had originally been built to serve dock works but as time went on the city grew around it and from isolated beginnings it is now nestled among high rises and highways although inside you felt like you were back in the isolated olden days. The clam chowder was delicious. It is well worth a visit!

With wedding festivities complete and most of our friends heading home we spent the next day visiting Laura’s childhood home (well doing a drive by) before heading to Santa Cruz. The fresh sea air was perfect to rid of us of the hangovers provided courtesy of the free pour bar. The boardwalk was like a step back in time, the old amusement games, the rides, the food stands – it was amazing. We picked fried potato as our snack of choice to sit and watch an otter find, prepare and enjoy his dinner floating out at sea.

From the main beach area we took a stroll up the pier to a restaurant that the Smith’s had previously enjoyed. Fish tacos were the recommendations as they were so fresh. The highlight for me was the view though. Sat eating we were treating to a flock of birds diving bombing the water to get food and another otter, or maybe the same otter, playing around. It was mesmerizing.

After lunch we drove a little further up the coast and stopped to watch a surfing competition, the laid back atmosphere felt a lot like we were back in Australia. Our next stop was Natural Bridges State Park, home of the Pacific Grove Monarch butterfly sanctuary. I’m not sure that any written description will convey the scene that greeted us. Talking a short stroll on a wooden boardwalk you wind your way into a gathering of trees, almost a small wood, and look up. Above your head and for as high and as far as you can see are branches covered in butterflies. Camouflaged and huddled together they are indistinguishable at first but as your eyes adjust the spectacular scene unfolds. Reading the signs the butterflies hold on to each other to keep warm as they can’t fly if their body temperature drops. It was fascinating.

Next time we explore the city!